Revamping Disney’s Villains: An Interview with Serena Valentino
Updated: Feb 2, 2019
I recently had the privilege of (virtually) sitting down with the mystical and magnanimous Serena Valentino to chat about her witch-filled and wonderful Disney Villains series.
Author Serena Valentino enchants her readers; whisking them away somewhere between dreams and nightmares. Originally known for her work on the comic book series GloomCookie and Nightmares & Fairy Tales, Ms. Valentino has since taken the world by storm with her best-selling Disney Villains novels published by Disney Press. Not only do Ms. Valentino’s stories give readers the opportunity to explore villains they know and love, readers are also introduced to new characters that operate behind the scenes of classic Disney plots, giving tales-as-old-as-time a bewitching new twist.
The books in the series are as follows and are best enjoyed if read in this order:
1. Fairest of All: The Story of the Wicked Queen
2. The Beast Within: The Story of Belle’s Prince
3. Poor Unfortunate Soul: A Tale of the Sea Witch
4. Mistress of All Evil: A Tale of the Dark Fairy
5. Mother Knows Best: A Tale of the Old Witch and
6. The Odd Sisters: A Villains Book
Five of what fans hope is an endless number of stories in the series have already been released. The upcoming installment, The Odd Sisters: A Villains Book, is the long-awaited feature novel showcasing Ms. Valentino’s three extraordinary female protagonists who have been perplexing and pleasing readers since Book 1.
Book 7 will be released Summer 2020, Book 8 will be released Summer 2021, and Book 9 will be released Summer 2022.
So, enough of me gushing over the books. Here’s what Serena had to say:
What got you into writing in the beginning?
My family loves to read, and I grew up reading a lot of books. I think from a young age I wanted to be a writer but it wasn’t until I was in the mid to late 20’s that I wrote my first story that was published. I was inspired by a lot of different writers, but there were some authors with distinct voices that felt similar to my own, storytelling voices different than the other authors I had read, and that is what really inspired me to start writing because I realized there might be an audience for my style of writing as well.
Tell us about your Villains series. What inspired you to write each villain’s story?
Fairest of All was heavily influenced by my own grief surrounding my sister Jesse’s passing. And of course I always loved Grimhilde, and Snow White is my favorite Disney princess. I think I wanted to tell a beautiful and tragic story, I always felt there had to be more behind why Grimhilde tried to kill her own daughter aside from vanity. The Beast Within was inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, and Jean Cocteau’s version of Beauty and the Beast. I was also excited to give the Odd Sisters a larger role in the story, and introduce their little sister Circe. I thought it was important to show the Beast as the villain, though fans of the Disney film don’t usually agree – and in fact feel he is the misunderstood monster. I always felt he was a selfish, cruel man who was rightfully cursed for being a pretty terrible person. He’s lucky Belle came along and saved him. She’s the hero of that story.
Poor Unfortunate Soul was inspired in part by a couple of HP Lovecraft stories. I was also inspired to tell a story about the dangers of suppressing your true self and not living your life authentically. Ursula’s brother Triton forced Ursula to live in a body that wasn’t hers. To pretend to be something she wasn’t and it damaged her soul. Her anger consumed her. I see Triton as the real villain in this story. I also felt it was important to expand the world I was creating for these stories. Show the different connections between the various characters, and their relationships with the Odd Sisters, which lead us to the story I had in mind for Mistress of All Evil which in a way brought everyone together in a way I had been planning for quite some time. I based Maleficent’s personality (when she was young and before she lost herself) on my sister Jesse.
I’m sure readers have noticed many of my stories are about losing sisters, or relationships between sisters. Jesse was my muse when she was alive and she continues to be now that she has passed. With Mother Knows Best, I really wanted to tell a dark story. I feel Gothel is a truly awful person, and I felt she needed a dark background to explain how she had become such a terrible person. Though I think we do feel bad for her in the version of the story I wrote, I don’t feel she was redeemed in the way that some my other villains have been. I also feel it was important to explore what Gothel’s mother was like. This I felt was key to understanding who Gothel became.
As for the upcoming Odd Sisters book I will share those thoughts once the book is released. But I will say I am so excited for readers to learn their story. To learn about their background, their family, and how they ended up becoming to crazed witches they are.
What is the process for selecting which villain you will write about?
Usually it’s just a matter of telling Disney which villain I’d like to focus on next.
Who is your favorite villain and why?
Maleficent has always been my favorite villain. She always struck me as misunderstood. Even when I was little and saw Sleeping Beauty for the first time I thought there had to be a reason she was so upset for not being invited to Aurora’s christening. As a kid I think I really just liked the way she looked, her horns, her flowing robes, she loved ravens, she was a fairy unlike the other fairies, and she could turn into a dragon. And all of that still holds true for me. Of course there’s more to it than that. But I think my love for Maleficent is in the pages of the book I wrote about her. It’s like a love poem to Maleficent.
What is your favorite Villains novel and why?
That’s hard. I love Mistress because, well, Maleficent. But I also love Mother Knows Best because of the darker tone, and I love Gothel’s sisters so much. Though if I had to pick a favorite I’d pick TheOdd Sisters because that book has elements of both novels. It has the heart of Mistress, mingled with some elements from MKB, and it really focuses on all the characters I created for the series.
Your readers already know and love the Odd Sisters, and anxiously await the book release next year. Is there anything you can share with us today about the upcoming book?
Odd Sisters takes up where Mistress of All Evil and Mother Knows Best leave off. It follows those ongoing storylines as well as explores the Odd Sisters’ origins and their background. I think everyone is going to be surprised to learn their background. And they will be surprised to see some of the characters that are involved in their story.
What advice do you have for amateur writers?
Write what you love. Tell the story you always wanted to read.
What is next for Serena Valentino?
Goodness. I have finished writing The Odd Sisters, and I am now working on the next villain novel. I can’t wait to tell everyone who the book is about. I think readers are going to freak out. I am also working on a number of other projects (including some graphic novels) that I am not ready to announce yet. I wish I could say more. But I promise, the moment I can say what I’ve been working on I will be sure to let everyone know. In the meantime I just really hope readers embrace The Odd Sistersnovel. I would love for them to have a series of their own where I can focus on them: Circe, Tulip, Nanny, Oberon, and the other lovelies I created for the villain series. Even though the book doesn’t come out until summer of next year, it’s already available for pre-order. And I can’t wait for readers to learn their story!
– end of interview –
The Odd Sisters is currently available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released Summer 2019. All Serena’s books that are currently in print can be ordered (as well as signed or inscribed!) from the Garden District Book Shop.